Observations with the Subaru Telescope, a Japanese 8-m telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, show that the aurorae at Jupiter’s poles are heating the atmosphere of the gas giant, and that it is a rapid response to the solar wind.
Aurorae at Earth’s poles occur when the energetic particles blown out from the Sun, the solar wind, interact with and heat up the gases in the upper atmosphere.
The same thing happens at Jupiter, but the new observations show the heating goes 2-3 times deeper down into its atmosphere than on Earth, into the lower level of Jupiter’s stratosphere (upper atmosphere).
Understanding how the Sun’s outpouring of solar wind interacts with planetary environments is key to better understanding the nature of how planets and their atmospheres evolve.
What is startling about the results is that scientists were able to associate the variations in the solar wind and the response in Jupiter’s stratosphere, and that the response to these variations is so quick for such a large area.
Within a day of the solar wind hitting Jupiter, the chemistry in its atmosphere changed and its temperature rose, the astronomers found.
Such heating and chemical reactions may tell us something about other planets with harsh environments, and even early Earth.
The results appear in the journal Nature Astronomy.